#316: The Who Sell Out, The Who
When I first got the idea to start listening to (and writing about) Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 500 Albums of All Time, I was about to go on a road trip. Makes sense, doesn’t it? No better time to expose yourself to new music than when you’re facing down seven hundred miles of highway.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I had several more road trips ahead of me. In fact, I took two more fifteen-hundred-mile road trips only six months later. And naturally, I decided to tackle another chunk of the list while I did.
In July of 2021, I packed up my old apartment, then hopped into my car at 4 a.m. and turned on the Who.
“Armenia City In The Sky,” was a disorienting start, the kitschy radio effects kicking in immediately to underscore exceptionally cryptic lyrics. Again, it was 4 a.m. I wasn’t ready for my mind to be blown.
The album cover reminded me of the cover for Who’s Next (#77), where they’re all peeing on a rock — it’s Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry going through their daily hygiene routines of deodorant and baked beans. Was this record going to be a farce? I wondered. The answer was: Kind of!
This record shows the Who, who were really doing commercials at the time, defying people to take their “selling out” seriously, while reminding them that they, too, have to make a living. The cover art lets you know exactly what you’re getting: a song called “Heinz Baked Beans” and one called “Odorono.” In the distance, you can hear Weird Al & Andy Warhol eating their hearts out.
Of course there was some messiness surrounding the very real brand names they used, which included German drug company “Medac.” Odorono reportedly got mad at producer Chris Stamp for requesting royalties, and Radio London claimed that the band didn’t ask for permission to use their very real radio jingles. Permission or no permission, there’s something so historically significant about brand names and advertisements, so it’s nice to have the Who giving us a flavor of what London was like in 1967.
RS says calls this the band’s funniest record. I definitely found myself chuckling at something new each time around. “Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand” is about a pretty graphic sex act, but somehow makes them sound like Simon & Garfunkel. “Tattoo” was a delightful takedown of people who feel that getting tattoos makes them “a man.” As someone with tattoos on both of my arms, Roger Daltrey is the only person alive allowed to make fun of them.
The funny moments are a dime a dozen, but the earnest moments are really nice too. “Our Love Was” is so sweet it almost forgives Townsend’s horrible voice. “Relax” and “Sunrise” both rely on the mesmerizing sound of Townsend’s incredibly delicate and dynamic guitar.
This record predated Tommy (#190) by two years, but there are moments of operatic drama that almost, just nearly, match the high drama of the Tale of the Pinball Wizard. “Rael (1 and 2)” tells a story that is quite literally cut off by damage to the tape, but still has a Black Parade air of jaded soldiers telling their jaded tale.
The moment of HIGHEST drama, though, was “I Can See For Miles.” They sound both insolent and powerful, like they’re giving the finger to Big Brother while pulling the pin off a grenade. If you can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles, you can see past all their bullshit. Unclear who “they” are, but it hardly matters.
More than a year later, that song still makes me feel emotions. It was predawn on the prairie, a long stretch of empty highway before me, the rising sun to the left. I really could see for miles.
How lame is that?
Best Bonus Track: I felt compelled to listen to “Jaguar,” since it was the first song written with this concept in mind. And it was worth it! It’s badass! It’s also so funny to hear them sing a jingle at the end. Listen and learn: If you’re gonna be a sellout, be punk about it.
Least Favorite Song: “Silas Stingy.” I just think it’s annoying, and “mingy” is not a punk word.